When I first met Ali Boulala, the first thing to hit me was that his reputation preceeds him. Ali wasn’t pissed out of his head or breaking boards every five minutes. Ali was having fun skating. Over the years, this flame of youth burns strongly within the young Swede and his desire to do something or have something are stronger than your average person’s, that’s sure.
This interview took place at Ali’s apartment in Lyon over a couple of beers. Ali was trying to learn new riffs on his guitar whilst giving advice to his mate, Steve Forstner, on purchasing a scooter, and trying to tame his crazy dog.
Oh, and Ali was wearing tracksuit bottoms, grandpa slippers, a theatrical shirt and a bandana. True Ali, the Ali that’s always been and always will be.
Alright Ali, man, tell me about how you discovered skating?
I don’t know, fuck. I guess, just seeing people in the street skating, and its like, ‘Wow! That looks fun!’
How long ago was this?
Oh, a fucking long time ago! The first time I ever rode a board, I don’t know, but maybe I was 10 years old with a blue banana board.
Can you remember what your first proper board was?
Yeah, I think I was in Mallorca and it was some Toxic board- that was the name of the company. My brother bought a Dogtown deck and I had the Toxic. Those were like the first proper boards or whatever.
Was your brother already skating before you?
No- that was like how we both got into it, just in Mallorca seeing kids there skating. All we had was the banana board, but it was mainly my brother’s idea, like ‘I’m going to buy a skateboard’, so I’m just like, ‘Fuck yeah, me too!’
Does your brother still skate?
Yeah, sometimes. He was into vert skating later on, but he doesn’t really skate that much anymore. I’m sure he would just cruise around.
Did you grow up in Sweden?
Yeah, pretty much! I was there till I was 15 or something, then I went to the States and England. (Phone rings- It’s the WE clothing guys who are about to pass by)
What was it like growing up and skating in Sweden?
It was fun, but there was never that much to skate. I mean, there still isn’t anything to skate there, but somehow there’s a scene, I guess.
What about the skateparks out there?
Oh, there are some indoor parks, but no that many. Maybe like one in every town.
So, how did sponsorship come about? Who were your first sponsors?
This skateshop called ‘G-Spot’, which is now owned by the same guy who owns WE Clothing. That was probably the first skateshop in Sweden- G-Spot.
So, how did you go from a small skateshop in Sweden to Flip?
It was mostly Rune (Glifberg), because he would come to Sweden, and I don’t know. I guess he told Jeremy (Fox) about me. Then, I went to the States with some Swedish friends and met up with Rune again there. All of a sudden they (Flip) said that I was on the team, basically. (laughter).
What’s it like at Flip? It seems pretty laid back with everybody free to do whatever they want.
For sure! They don’t send people wherever, they know that we’re gnarly! (Laughter) No pressure!
Who inspired you in the beginning?
I don’t know. I guess it was different people on different days. When I was younger, I definitely used to like Mike Carroll and all the Girl skaters, I don’t know about anymore. But, I mean of course I’m still amped to see skating, but it isn’t the same as it was before. But definitely, different days and psyches mean different people.
Now that you are pro and you have grown up in skating, has your perception of it all changed, or are you still young at heart like the kid you were when you started?
Yeah! It’s always like that, I just want to skate. It’s different now though because we have to film and capture everything on film!
How do you feel about that? Back in the day videos dropped once a year, maybe 6 months, but now it’s two every week.
Yeah, it’s too much. Like, you can’t just make a video to make a video- it has got to be something that someone will actually remember and see for a while. Filming wise though, I used to film myself all the time anyway, just for the hell of it and the fun.
Are there any moments when filming that stick out in your head as memorable? For example filming for ‘Sorry’, or with your friends in Huntington Beach, or back in Sweden at the local spot.
I don’t know really. It’s always just been filming for nothing in particular, just seeing what you have done on tape. Sometimes the process can be good and sometimes its shit.
When you moved out to the States to join the other Flip guys, did the country live up to your expectations?
The first thing that I remember is that I just laughed at how small all the spots were! I just couldn’t believe it. Like as a kid, the first thing was like. ‘Yeah, I want to go to Embarcadero (Legendary San Francisco spot) and skate all the ledges!’ But, you get there and it’s like, ‘What?! This is it? Holy shit!’ (Laughter) You just think that it’s more than it really is, but that was just like a typical thing. It is smaller, the rails are built lower. It’s better for skating though! (Laughter)
With California being the hub of skateboarding, was it ever hard to deal with all the industry bullshit?
No. I never even thought anything about the ‘industry’ or that there was anything like California being the heart of the industry or anything. I didn’t really care all that much or worry about there being a center for all the industry.
One of the things that you are most recognised for is your transition from baggy trousers to tight ass jeans and leather jackets with the punk rock attitude to kick. What happened there? Do you feel like the instigator to the whole ‘Piss Drunx’ phenomena?
I don’t know. Whatever, it’s just clothing basically! Whatever you want to wear that day, or year. Whatever! (Laughter) It’s just clothes basically, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever ideas, I guess, like new style or something. I mean, sure, it created some whole new ‘thing’ in skating with this style shit like ‘Hesh’ and ‘Fresh’, whatever! (Jim) Greco definitely had a lot to do with it, too!
But, don’t you feel like you have given guidance to some of the kids because before, when things were ‘Fresh’ so to speak, rock kids were left on the side unable to truly express themselves. Today it’s the rapper
that gets laughed at.
Yeah. It’s all skating, you know? I don’t care.
Now, your situation with the States is a bit difficult today. Do you want to talk about it?
Yeah, I don’t mind. I mean, they want me to go back and I really want to go, but. Flip paid for the work visa to prove my status. I have to go to the embassy to get questioned, but who knows? Even if I get it, once you’re at the US border you are alone with no help. The visa doesn’t really matter because they can still say ‘No’. I’m not sure. You never know. Loads of people fucking over stayed and got back in whilst others didn’t. Some people can never go back! It’s like a gamble, basically.
Have you got ay crazy stories from your visits to the States?
Well, I don’t know what’s ‘crazy’ as such, but Huntington is so crazy, like somebody is always looking at you! If you step over that line, then they stop you and take you away to jail or whatever. It’s just so ridiculous and that’s why I don’t really want to go back. You feel like you have to be careful where you step, if you step there then that’s wrong! I just don’t like it.
After leaving the States, you have been travelling around Europe, you spent some time in England, and you ended up in Lyon. Why Lyon, of all places?
I don’t know. It was like, ‘Fuck!’ I was just going all over the place, just travelling all the time anyway, I came to Lyon a few times and decided to stay. It’s so easy here- you can just be skating down the street and there are spots. However, it feels like there are less and less spots now! (Laughter) Lyon isn’t huge and massive like Paris or London. You can get to Barcelona, London, Paris etcetera really fast from here- It’s a ‘middle point’, if you want to call it that. (Laughter)
Since you live in France, have you learnt how to speak the language?
Well, I guess I could if I wanted to speak, but I don’t know. I understand when people talk and shit, but I just don’t want to speak it for some reason. I don’t know why. (Laughter) I understand, but I won’t talk.
What do you do when you aren’t skating? I see you like to collect scooters, guitars, remote control planes.
Oh yeah! The whole broken hobby dream! Fuck man. (Laughter) I mean, it was fun, but the remote control things are only good for a few minutes, or days even. But, the guitar, I guess, is the thing that is going to stay. Somehow, I’ll keep doing that, I don’t know. The other toys are just impulse purchase. It’s fun for a few minutes, but then its hell! (Laughter)
Which was your favourite toy?
Well. (Hesitates) The helicopter is the best thing, but it’s also the most impossible to fly! So, I guess that makes it the best and the worst thing. It would be good if I knew how to fucking fly the thing! But, I think the guitar is probably more fun. (Laughter)
Do you play any other instruments apart from the guitar?
No, not really.
If you could play something else, what would it be?
There are loads of things I’d like to play, like a one man band. (Laughter) I don’t know, just the guitar. I like the guitar.
Are you thinking of starting up your own remote control toy shop?
Start a band?
(Laughter) No. I just want to play for myself, like with my skating, just learn tricks on the guitar basically.
What’s your axe then?
A Les Paul. Gibson Les Paul. But I have many guitars now! But, this has to be my favourite one.
What are your musical influences? What do like to listen to or play?
Oh, like play? I just try and play anything I can! (Laughter) I can make my own songs, and it’s all inspired by the different things I listen to all mixed up.
Well, for instance, what CD is in your machine right now?
Uhhh. Maybe it was some Pink Floyd that I tried to learn the song. Led Zeppelin songs I try to learn because it’s so complicated! I feel that if I can play one Led Zeppelin song , then I can come out and say it like, ‘Yeah, I can do that!’
All their songs are so gnarly. There’s so much random shit, like ever since I picked up the guitar, I have become receptive to any songs with guitars playing in them, like, ‘Yeah, that’s good!’
Alright.. Another thing that stands out in your career is the jump to Osiris. Osiris was so Hip-Hop based that you were probably the last person we’d expect to see wearing D3s. Tell me about that?
I didn’t have a shoe sponsor for a long time. It was through Dune (Pastras), without him I don’t think I would have ridden for anyone. He doesn’t work for them anymore, but he was the contact there. I tried to ride for Vans, and they just didn’t want to give me a good deal. I don’t know.
How is it with Osiris because they like to do really big tours and stuff?
Yeah, it’s cool! It’s good that they do that. All of a sudden they changed their team, and they’re still changing the team, making it better. We’ve got John Rattray and stuff now!
Do you get together with the other team members much?
Well, whenever there are those huge tours, then yeah, I guess we all get on and go. Apart from the tours, though, not really because everyone else lives in the States.
Do you have any crazy tour stories? Brandon Turner already told me about stripping for girls in England once.
(Laughter) Yeah! There was some funny shit going down in South Africa and New Zealand with that crazy huge tour. There are always stories, but you can’t really go into them here. (Laughter) (The recording stops and then picks up again.) Uhhh. No particular stories right now! (Laughter)
Now that you have travelled around most of the globe, what has been your favourite place to visit?
I must say Australia. I always like it when I go back to Australia. It’s so fucking far away, but it’s worth it, for sure! Every time I go there, I just want to stay there forever, I guess.
What would be your dream session? In Australia perhaps.
What…..like skating wise or just hanging out?
Well, if you had to choose between a session anywhere in the world for a day, or a trip with friends and no board?
No board?! Definitely without my board! I must say, no boards, Dustin (Dollin) and his homies around there maybe.
Do you miss not being able to go back to the States and chilling with your homies? Do you still keep in contact with them?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure! I mean, I talk to them, and if it was guaranteed that I could get back into the country, then I’m sure I would think about going there more often. It’s too much of a gamble, I don’t know. That’s the only reason I would ever go back is to hang out with all my friends there. Then, I guess they come over here, or to Australia..?
How would you define a professional seeing as today the definition is hazy between super ams and lazy pros?
I don’t know, it’s hard. Ok, I mean it was so obvious before, like you’re a professional, you get money. Now all the ams get fucking more money than I do! (Laughter) For fucks sake! (Laughter) I don’t know.
Well, looking at today’s pros, who do you think applies best to the definition of a pro?
Well, I don’t really think there should be such a thing like that really! Everybody is all different in their own way, or whatever. It’s just skateboarding, there are no rules!
Who isn’t pro and deserves to be?
Steve Forstner: That’s a good question! Me..?
Yeah Steve, but you’re pro already for Antiz!
But, what do you mean? Like a dude with his name on a board? I can’t really say.
Ok, how about inversing the question then? Who is pro and doesn’t deserve it?
Oh. I think there are a lot! (Laughter) But, I don’t think it’s my liberty to really say!
I heard that some skaters claimed to have landed the 25 set.
No, no, no! Nobody tried that. I’m the only one to try the 25 set (Ali speaks clearly
straight into the mic).
Tell me about it. What was going through your mind?
I still think it’s possible to do, not that it’s so much fun to fly through the air and land on the cement ground! (Laughter) I just saw it and was like, ‘That’s one of the gnarliest, shocking things you could do!’ If you can.
Did you have to hype yourself up to do the jump? You left it till the very last minute, didn’t you?
Yeah, of course! I waited till the end because I wanted to film other stuff first because I knew that that if you don’t make it then that’s it, you won’t be able to skate for a while.
You had some badly bruised heels after that, huh?
Oh yeah, both! I had blue heels for like a month at least. I basically waited for the last possible moment to do it. Of course it was raining on the last, last day of filming, Fred (Mortagne-the filmer) was leaving and the video was now over like no more filming, it’s raining. Still, I don’t know, I just tried it anyway. It wasn’t pissing down with rain, but it was wet.
Didn’t you make any calls beforehand to make sure you’d be insured in case anything went wrong?
I don’t know, but there was money on the line! It was after I had already tried it and failed, that money came into the equation. They were like, ‘If you do it, you’ll get however much money!’ There was talk of thousands being put down if I did it again. Then it all kind of died down, and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t want to jump down there for money!’ Like, I’m not going to pay somebody to jump out of that window to the flat, just to see someone get hurt, just because it’s shocking! Whatever. Of course I want to do it because it’s shocking, too, but not for the money.
Ok Ali thanks for your time, let’s go skate!
Thanks Ralph…bye bye people!
Ali Boulala rides for Flip Skateboards, Etnies Shoes, WE Clothing and Wall Street Skateshop.